Guardsman with terminal cancer promoted to captain |

Guardsman with terminal cancer promoted to captain

Dylan Woolf Harris
Elko Daily Free Press
From right, James Chandler, Nevada Army National Guard combat engineer with the 609th, is promoted to captain by Lt. Col. Wilson de Silva of the 17th Sustainment Brigade Nevada Army National Guard.
PHOTO BY Dylan Woolf Harris |

ELKO — When he joined the U.S. Army, James Chandler set a goal to reach the rank of captain — that was before he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Chandler joined in 2009 and serves in Fallon as a combat engineer — often referred to as a “sapper” — in the 609th Engineer Company of the Nevada Army National Guard.

But in September 2013, Chandler was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. He went through months of chemotherapy and radiation, but the treatment didn’t kill the cancer and his condition deteriorated.

“I was hospitalized for a time. I died, but I just wasn’t ready to leave the Earth yet,” he said.

While at the hospital in Salt Lake City, members of his Nevada Army National Guard unit flew from Carson City to see him. During a visit, Chandler was promoted to 1st lieutenant.

Chandler recalls the moment fondly, and said it provided a big boost. As the rain beat down, officers stood at the position of attention, and Chandler had one ranked ripped off and another pushed on.

That was in October — the month James Chandler associates with eating his last meal because of the worsening condition of his throat.

Army Capt. Brett Eklund asked Chandler if there was anything in his career that he wanted to accomplish.

“I said, ‘Sir, I always wanted to make the rank of captain,’” Chandler said.

Realizing Chandler suffered from stage-four cancer, Eklund said the honor would probably be a goal realized after death.

“I thought that would be neat. I wanted that,” Chandler said of the posthumous honor.

But the unexpected happened.

“All of a sudden these people started showing up at the house,” he said. Members of his Army unit flew into Elko to spend time with Chandler and his family at his home.

In addition to Guard members, his daughters Michelle Chandler and Stephanie Chandler-Holden attended, as well as parents Karen Nedli, and Bob and Rose Rogers. Sheriff Lt. Mike Silva, who is an Army sergeant, came to show his support, too.

During the visit, an officer declared there was a rank issue that needed to be resolved.

Less than a minute later, Chandler was sworn as an Army captain by Lt. Col. Wilson de Silva of the 17th Sustainment Brigade, Nevada Army National Guard.

Chandler embraced his wife, Susan, who he credited with organizing the surprise. In turn, she credited the officers.

“It worked out really well. It was a beautiful day,” she said. After the promotion, everyone went to Sergios for lunch, then visited students at Northside Elementary, where their son, Hunter, goes to school.

“The kids loved it,” Susan Chandler said.

In April, James Chandler had to step down from volunteer and work positions, including coaching Little League and working as a police officer with the Western Shoshone Department of Public Safety.

Police Chief Larry Robb said Chandler was an exemplary cop.

“His word is his bond,” Robb said. “Kind of a rare breed. … He was very good at engaging the community — just an all around top notch person and very easy to supervise.”

Rob described Chandler as dependable and a great mentor to youth in the community.

“He’s just an outstanding public servant,” he said.

James and Susan Chandler said the amount of care and concern they and their family received from the Nevada Army National Guard — from enlisted soldiers to highly-ranked officers — has been astonishing.

He’s seen the other members receive support in various ways, such as passing around a coffee can during a drill to help pay for a child’s surgery.

“By the end of a drill, they won’t be down a couple thousand, they’ll be up a couple thousand,” he said.

“I’ll tell you, the Army is about as close as close-knit a family you could have,” he added. “From top to bottom.”